The Friendly Comfort of French Country
An international interior designer shares insights from her native French wheelhouse
By Elizabeth Sugg » Photos by Mollie Tobias
“I’m a purist,” says Corine de Libran Longanbach of her design inspiration. “I did this house Southern because I wanted it to look like it belonged here.”
As we walk the exterior of the plantation home featuring gracious double front covered porches, the architectural inspiration of the late A. Hays Town, the Baton Rouge native who developed a distinctive residential style heavily influenced by Spanish, French and Creole elements, the surrounding landscape of the equestrian community embellishes the romance of this historically inspired 2003 house. During the 17 years that Longanbach and her husband Peter have lived in this tranquil countryside setting of Southern Pines, the young trees along the driveway planted so long ago have grown and arched over the approach, framing the columned exterior of this classic style of American colonial architecture. Two sculpted French whippets adorn the porch floor at the front entrance — “Dogs are so welcoming,” explains Longanbach.
And so is the interior of this masterful Country French home. Its luxury lies in the handsome collection of reclaimed flooring, mantles and doors providing the foundation for a color palette found in a chinoise fabric covering four bergères, the Louis XV-style upholstered armchair featuring a deeper, wider seat for ultimate comfort, that furnish the central living room.
Importing reclaimed portions of French houses and estates was the backbone of an interior design business Longanbach developed in California that began as a storefront called Voyage En France in Rancho Santa Fe. A young mother of three pioneering a life an ocean and continent away from her native France found that her roots and design style put her “in the right place at the right time.” Longanbach grew up between the city life of Marseille and the country life of Aix-en-Provence, and that convergence fit the casual elegance desired by an affluent Californian clientele who wanted comfortable luxury.
Married at 20 and armed with two years of design school, she worked alongside a brother-in-law, a well-known interior designer in France, until she moved to the United States in 1980. There is a French practicality to Longanbach’s style found in her use of space, for example, there is only one hallway in her house — “wasted space”. Instead rooms butt up to another room entered through handsome raised panel doors and framed doorways carved out of 12-foot ceilings. The spaciousness enhances the thoughtful blending of architectural elements such as wood beams along the living room ceiling brought in from Pennsylvania, the reclaimed French chevron-patterned wood floors, and an antique-salvaged limestone fireplace imported from France that anchors the sweeping living space that connects the Country French kitchen and a handsome paneled study.
There are lessons in Longanbach’s design philosophy, one that is as at home creating a minimalist interior for a project that took her to Japan as she is creating a recent expanse on their property, a pool house made to look like “a farm house,” says Longanbach, “like it has always been here.” The rough-hewn pine painted in a cooling whitewash complements the tumbled travertine floors. Indian napping beds Longanbach saw in that country became the base of two comfortable inset wall seats with tobacco baskets eclectically accentuating this bold interpretation of farmhouse style. Hidden doorways along the paneled expanse of the pool house open to a large refrigerator adjacent to the outdoor kitchen and bar, another to a bathroom complete with a Brigitte Bardot poster of the actress poolside.
Currently working on design projects in both Hawaii and London, Longanbach works alongside architects as a project is conceived, helping imagine the living space and how a house will flow. Common Longanbach design elements are:
Design to the space: The pool house concept was inspired by the couple’s life on a horse farm with a desire to make the addition look like an original outbuilding.
Simple elegance created by making each component count: Longanbach excels at stylish livability. No unnecessary ornamentation is present, instead the style is developed through necessary elements for a space — floors, ceilings, doors, cabinets — enhanced by thoughtfully accentuated furnishings. “I try not to get too froufrou. I want to come in from the outdoors in my boots and feel comfortable,” says Longanbach.
The use of paint: Note the “Provence green” paneled dining room and painted furnishings throughout the house. “Paint softens a room. The lighter colors are from the south of France, more Provence,” says Longanbach.
Fabric wall coverings provide color, texture and soothing acoustics: Each of the bedrooms has fabric-covered walls — very French — that have a flair akin to a beautiful wallpaper but with the texture of cloth creating a cocoon of warmth in these restful guest areas.
A garden: For Longanbach a garden like something she would see in her native France spoke to her so she created a parterre, a formal garden consisting of plant beds in symmetrical patterns. Whatever someone’s inspiration, a garden/enjoying nature is an intrinsic part of Longanbach’s passion she brings to her design.
Built-in bookshelves that tell a story: In her dining room and in her bedroom are two full-length walls that house well-loved books and family photographs, snapshots some of which are framed but many that look like they may have recently arrived in the mail. These shelves house Longanbach’s children, friends and family, and they tell a story about a person without words about what is most important to her.
When the Longanbachs were seeking a place to enjoy an active retirement, Peter with a lifelong passion for golf and Longanbach one for riding horses and now fox hunting, they sought the Mid-Atlantic to be a continent closer to her family in France. The Sandhills became the fitting backdrop for their Country French plantation home, its architectural design and interior creating the gracious welcome so natural to Longanbach.